Greenwich Foot Tunnel is a tunnel under the river Thames, which links Greenwich with Millwall. It was originally built so that dock workers living on the south side of the river, could easily access the shipyards on the north side. This post is all about the history of Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
History of Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Greenwich Foot Tunnel opened in 1902, after three years of construction. Before it was built, the only way to cross from Greenwich to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs was by an unreliable ferry service. This service was not only unpredictable but also expensive, so an alternative option was needed.
After campaigning to build the Blackwall Tunnel in 1897, the Labour politician Will Crooks began campaigning for the construction of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
Crooks was a working class politician who had worked at the shipyard himself, so he understood the need for local people to have easy access to the London docks.
It was also the efforts of the working-class politician that led to the construction of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel ten years later.
Work began on the Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1899, two years after the Blackwall Tunnel opened. It was designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie, and opened to the public in 1902
Facts About the Tunnel
- In total the tunnel is 370.2 metres (1,215 feet) long, and 15.2 metres (50 feet) deep.
- It has an internal diameter of 2.74 metres (9 feet), which is wide enough for a foot tunnel, but too narrow for a train.
- The northern staircase has 87 steps.
- The southern staircase has 100 steps.
- The tile-lined tunnel feels very cold at its deepest point, even in the summer time.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel in World War II
During the second world war, the northern end of the tunnel sustained bomb damage. The damage occurred on the first night of the blitz on 7th and 8th September 1940.
The tunnel was relied on during the war, since it connected workers’ homes in the south with the docks in the north. Work to repair the tunnel began straight away, and it was re-opened to the public in early 1941.
Today most of the tunnel is made up of cast-iron rings, coated with concrete and then covered with white glazed tiles. The part that was damaged however is much narrower than the rest of the tunnel, as it was repaired with a thick steel and concrete inner lining. This reduced the diameter of the tunnel for a short way.
In the photograph below you can see the section of the tunnel that was damaged during world war II. It is narrower than the rest of the tunnel, and lined with steel rings instead of white tiles.
Below is a photograph of the plaque, that is located at the entrance to the section of the tunnel that was damaged during the second world war.
The tunnel entrance is beneath a red brick shaft with a glazed dome on top. The entrance shafts on both sides of the river are identical.
Large lifts were installed at the entrances on both sides of the river in 1904, and have been upgraded twice, once in 1992 and once in 2012. There are also spiral staircases on each side, leading down to the tunnel.
The photograph below shows the staircase and lift at the Greenwich entrance to the tunnel.
Expansion and Upgrades
Throughout its history, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel has undergone several expansion and upgrade projects to improve its functionality.
In 2010, Greenwich Council started a project to upgrade the tunnel, which included installing new lifts, CCTV, lighting, signs and communication facilities. After several delays, the work was completed two years later.
Daily Usage and Importance
Approximately 4,000 people use the Greenwich Foot Tunnel each day, and it continues to play a vital role in connecting Greenwich with the north side of the river Thames.
The southern entrance to the tunnel, on the Greenwich side, is a short distance away from Cutty Sark, the Old Royal Navel College, Greenwich University, Greenwich Hospital, the National Maritime Museum, and the Royal Observatory. This means it is convenient for tourists, residents, workers and students who want to visit these locations from the north side of the Thames.
The distinctive red brick entrance shafts with glazed domes have also become iconic landmarks in both Greenwich and Island Gardens on the northern side.
Is Greenwich Foot Tunnel Safe?
Despite the signs at both entrances to the tunnel stating that cycling is not permitted, you still get lots of people cycling fast through the tunnel. This is pretty dangerous for anyone walking down there, since the tunnel is narrow and you could easily be hit. Also, the tunnel is often quiet, particularly at night time, so I wouldn’t recommend walking through it alone at night.
How Long is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel?
Greenwich Foot Tunnel is 370.2 metres (1,215 feet) long.
How long does it take to walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel?
It takes around 5-10 minutes to walk through the tunnel, depending on how fast you walk.
What time is Greenwich tunnel open?
Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open 24 hours a day.
Location of Greenwich Foot Tunnel
The map below shows the exact location of Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
Oldest Tunnels Under the River Thames
Greenwich Foot Tunnel is the oldest foot tunnel under the Thames that is still in use today. It is also the fourth oldest tunnel to be built under the river. The first was Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, which opened in 1843.
The table below shows the first six tunnels to be constructed under the river Thames, with details about the type of tunnel they were, and what they are used for today.
|Tunnel||Year it Opened||Type||Current Use|
|Thames Tunnel||1843||Foot Tunnel||Part of the London Overground network, carrying trains between Rotherhithe and Wapping.|
|Tower Subway||1870||Rail tunnel||Carries water mains, and fibre optic telecommunications links.|
|Blackwall Tunnel||1897||Road tunnel||A major road tunnel connecting Tower Hamlets with north Greenwich.|
|Greenwich Foot Tunnel||1902||Foot tunnel||Pedestrian tunnel connecting Greenwich with Island Gardens.|
|Rotherhithe Tunnel||1908||Road tunnel||A road tunnel linking Rotherhithe with Limehouse.|
|Woolwich Foot Tunnel||1912||Foot tunnel||Pedestrian tunnel connecting Woolwich with North Woolwich.|
Other Posts Related to Greenwich
If you are looking for things to do in Greenwich, check out the posts below.
This Post Was About the History of Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Thank you for reading my post about the history of Greenwich Foot Tunnel. The tunnel was originally built provide reliable access to the London docks, that could be used in all weather conditions. Today it still links Cutty Sark to Island Gardens in Tower Hamlets. The foot tunnel is a Grade II listed structure, so whenever refurbishment work is carried out, care is taken to ensure the historical atmosphere is preserved.